Heading off to make his mark in new media, Rogers completes production of his broadcast series.
In the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of television, no one has endured so long, or touched so many viewers, as Fred Rogers. His warm presence has entertained and reassured generations of children through public television broadcasts for 32 years and counting.
Rogers' announcement last month that he would soon end production of new episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was startling news to everyone who watched the show as a child, parent, and/or grandparent. That amiable smile, the sweater and sneaker ritual, the cozy safety of his television neighborhoodwe've all found comfort in it at one time or another, and more often then we care to admit.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood delivers comfort food for the soul on a par with my grandmother's tomato noodle soupa loving treat that I won't attempt to foist repeatedly on the innocent public. How will the world be right without Grandma Everhart's soup, or without Mr. Rogers singing through my television, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood . . . "?
Both Rogers and PBS say the television series will continue to air on public broadcasting for the foreseeable future. "I can't imagine a PBS without Mister Roger's Neighborhood," PBS President Pat Mitchell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. PBS's broadcast rights to the series expire next August, and the network is negotiating with Rogers' production company, Family Communications Inc., to extend those rights, according to a PBS spokeswoman.
Rogers himself has long regarded the television series as a library of programs that air repeatedly as children grow into and out of the target age group, says Hedda Sharapan, associate p.r. director for Family Communications. Though few viewers would have noticed, annual production has tapered from 15 to five new episodes over the last few years.
The producers draw extensively from a library of nearly 1,000 episodes to deliver a different program each weekday. Shows are selected to suit a weekly theme. The topic for broadcasts Jan. 1-5 is "When Parents Go to Work." The last five episodes, completing production this month at WQED in Pittsburgh, about art and art education, will air next summer.
"This is truly an evergreen show," says Tom Rendon, Ready to Learn coordinator at Iowa PTV. The audience for PBS Kids "may get tired of seeing dragons," but they'll always be receptive to Fred Rogers, he asserts. "He talks at such a fundamental level to children" and affirms their basic emotional needs.
Rogers does not intend to retire, but to work on creating new content in other media. He recently wrote a book about giving traditions, The Giving Box (Running Press), and FCI collaborated with Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center to produce a new planetarium show for preschoolers. Rogers plans to direct his energies to similar projects.
"When I started, television was the new medium," Rogers told the Post-Gazette. "There are some new media now and they're taking more and more of my time."
Family Communications has developed a multitude of grant-based, off-air projects since the late 1980s, and these now provide the bulk of its financing, says Sam Newberry, director of production. An update of the popular Ready to Learn training workshops, "What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel?," is among the projects at the top of the company's "to-do" list.
"We've got a number of avenues where I think we can make a real contribution to families," adds Newberry. "Fred's philosophy and messages are so respected and admiredpeople are hungry for that kind of affirmation and calmness."
Rogers, a 72-year old vegetarian, is in "great health," assures Sharapan. "He swims every day," and "loves to work."
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